I love you. I don’t hate you. I hate what you represent. I hate that my father left this country with three children behind, promised to remain faithful to my mother, ran off with yours, and had you.
I don’t hate you. I dislike the idea of you. I dislike that when I was three years old I saw my father pack his bags on a cerulean October day and honestly thought we, as a family, were going on a vacation. I dislike that I thought he was coming back to me and my sister and my infant brother who lit up like a candle after the electricity had gone out whenever papi came through the door. I waited for him, every day until I turned seven and grew wiser, by the window because that’s where he sat and that’s where he would return.
I’m happy you have him around, I’m happy that he’s there to protect you. It just sucks that he wasn’t ever around to protect me. You scraped your knees countless times and he was there to comfort you, to couch your ales with love and attention and reassurance that everything will be okay. He wasn’t there to reassure me that the world is not as cruel as it lets off after the man that lived across the street from our shabby one bedroom apartment lured me into his basement and showed me what a man, a real man, looks like. But then again, how senseless of me would it be to wish my father were there for me when he was clearly too busy with you?
I hate that my resentment towards him manifests itself into resentment towards you. You’re innocent, I’m aware. But when you talk to me about how much you love “our” dad and that I should too, I can’t contain my bitterness. I know you’re only 10, but you want to act like you have the whole world figured out and know so much about how to deal with forgiveness, so I’m going to talk to you like a grown up, because when I was around your age, I had to act like a grown up. You don’t have to worry about anything. Shit, you don’t even know what problems are. Everything is given to you, yet you call and complain as if you were trying to remind me of how good you have it. I know you’re only 10, but you don’t know how easy you have it. When I was your age my mother couldn’t afford to take us to the swimming pool, or to the mall, or to McDonalds. I didn’t know what a happy meal was until I was 11 and my uncle, who pities my mother’s situation along with the rest of her family, took me to McDonalds with his Brady Bunch family and had me feeling like Cousin Oliver. I felt like I belonged, I wanted to belong; I wanted to live with him so badly. Why? Because my mother was living with three children in an apartment that only had one room and one tiny bed. Mami was nice enough to sleep on the couch that she rescued before the garbage men were able to get their filthy hands on it while we slept on the twin sized bed. I mean, at least we had a roof over our heads, right? I remember when Papi lived with us. We lived in a spacious three bedroom first floor apartment, one room for me, one room for my sister, and one room for my parents because my brother wasn’t born yet so he didn’t matter. My sister and I would run around the house like cockroaches when you turn on the lights, enjoying the luxury of space. But where we had to move to after he left was a place that not even the rats wanted to inhabit. There was nothing to eat there, and when there was, it wouldn’t last long because our hungry asses would eat it before my mother could set the plate on the table. You don’t know what hunger is, Papi has always made sure you weren’t hungry.
You’re his star child; la niña linda de Papi. I was never a priority, nor a concern, nor a thought. But he heard I’m doing great and that my future looks promising, so now he wants me to call him “Papi” whenever he calls. He wants to play the role of the proud father; although his one and only contribution to my life was the night I was conceived. He wasn’t there for me in the third grade when I went home crying because I didn’t understand my arithmetic homework and my mother, with an eighth grade education, was happy she knew how to multiply and could finally contribute to my education. She couldn’t help me with Language Arts because, let’s be real, the only language she knew was Spanish and numbers. Numbers are universal, so it wasn’t hard for her to figure out how ridiculously in debt she was when bills with bolded numbers that were five times the amount of her income would come in the mail. He wasn’t there for me when I found out I couldn’t afford to pay for college applications so my mother pawned off my grandmother’s jewelry so I could apply to institutions far away from home. But he was there for you, every step of the way.
I have nothing against you; I love you with all of my heart, but I can’t stand the fact that I look like him, so I can’t stand you either. I mean, how could I? You’re the spitting image of him. In the morning when I’m standing in front of the mirror indecisive about whether I should wear my curls up or down, I avoid eye contact with the reflection of myself to avoid seeing his image. But I love you, very much. I see so much potential in you. I see me in you, in your round face, almond shaped eyes, childish cheeks, and the nonexistent gap between your earlobes and the side of your face. You are the me I wanted to be at your age. Maybe I shouldn’t make things so obvious. It’s not your fault; it’s never the fault of the mistress’s child. But I’m the wife’s daughter, I had to deal with the wife lamenting her husband’s abrupt departure and being reminded of his absence every day of her miserable life when she saw me because my face was no different than his, the only difference was that at least I was still around.
You call me your sister, but how can I be your sister? You and I have nothing in common except for 23 chromosomes. You and I didn’t play with hand-me-down Barbies because Mami couldn’t afford to buy the new one that came with the pink convertible. You weren’t there with me, my sister and brother when we would make a fort out of the two pillows we hard, or booby trapped the front door with red yarn just in case dad came back he would be trapped and could never leave again. Because, come on, no one can escape the wrath of red yarn.
At times I feel like I’m coming down too hard on you, but trust me when I say that I’m trying to resolve whatever this is so I can be there for you. It’s funny because here I am, jealous of you for having a full-time father; meanwhile you’re jealous of me for having an older sister and annoying younger brother. You want us in your life so badly, but can’t have us in your life. It’s not even the distance; it’s not that difficult to get on a plane. It’s that we’re distant in ways more significant and prying than distance. You know of me, you don’t know me. But I don’t want it to be that way. I want to be there for you, I want to be your big sister. I want dad to be our father. I want us to be happy and for me to not feel like I’m betraying my mother when I’m at your house, sitting around your table, with your mother offering me rice and my father sitting there like his family is complete and perfect because I’m there. But at the moment that can’t happen. I can’t just let go of the past. So forgive me if I come across as indifferent when you tell me that you miss me, but I’m too busy dragging around this emotional baggage to even fake being happy of your existence.
One day, when you’re old enough, you’ll understand.